HEBRON (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces tightened security in the Old City of Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank on Saturday night, expanding the area under army control by several meters with cement blocks.
Israeli soldiers moved cement blocks, which were installed at the entrance of al-Shuhada Street, some 10 meters further within the adjacent Bab al-Zawiya neighborhood.
Local activist Issa Amro told Ma’an that the cement blocks had been moved near a checkpoint at the main entrance of al-Shuhada without warning or explanation, adding that a number of Palestinian-owned stores were no longer accessible by car due to the change.
Amro added that one of the blocks had been set up to serve as cover for army snipers.
The activist hypothesized that the measures had been taken ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover, set to begin on April 10, although Amro said that this was the first time that such a move had been made in the area.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that they were looking into the reports.
According to Ma’an’s correspondent in the city, it was the first time that Israeli forces had expanded the area under Israeli military control in Hebron’s Old City since 1997, when a protocol was signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority regarding the division of the city of Hebron following the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre in 1994.
Located in the center of Hebron -- one of the largest cities in the occupied West Bank -- the Old City was divided into Palestinian and Israeli-controlled areas, known as H1 and H2.
Some 800 notoriously aggressive Israeli settlers now live under the protection of the Israeli military in the Old City, surrounded by more than 30,000 Palestinians.
Palestinian residents of the Old City face a large Israeli military presence on a daily basis, with at least 20 checkpoints set up at the entrances of many streets, as well as the entrance of the Ibrahimi Mosque itself.
On al-Shuhada Street, Palestinians have had their homes and shops on the street welded shut, and are not allowed to drive, or, in some areas, walk.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlers can move freely on the street, drive cars, and carry machine guns in the Old City.